Northern Rugby Tour

As a team, it gives us the opportunity to develop our game and test it against a different opponent each week. All Black coach, Steve Hansen

All Blacks face big challenges on overseas trip

By Roger Childs

Steve HansenBack in 2005 Graham Henry’s side beat Wales 41-3 and Ireland 45-7 on consecutive Saturdays,. In 2005, the scores were no surprise. However, the remarkable feature was that the run-on All Blacks for the Irish test featured fifteen different players from the team that played the Welsh.

The squad just picked to take on the USA, England, Scotland and Wales in the next few weeks has similar depth to that excellent 2005 team. Dan Carter, Luke Romano and Sonny Bill Williams return as expected and Victor Vito adds strength to the loose forwards.

Needing to pick up their form

The All Blacks had a last gasp win against a fired-up Wallabies side in Brisbane last weekend. It was not a convincing performance, but the visitors finished strongly and showed their ability to come from behind late in the game.

AB v WallabiesHowever there were some disappointing aspects which the coaches and players will be well aware of:
~ too many missed tackles
~ some sloppy passes and knock-ons
~ a lot of ball turned over
~ giving the opposition too much room to move in the backs.

Malakai Fekitoa, who played very well the previous week against the Springboks, missed a crucial tackle early on which eventually led to Foley scoring and he also dropped a couple of passes. However he did make amends by scoring the winning try with a superb break and an excellent finish.

On the plus side:

  • the All Blacks scored four impressive tries including one from Dane Coles who sold a lovely dummy before crossing by the posts,
  • the lineout worked perfectly with excellent throwing from the hookers and well timed jumping,
  • domination was achieved in the scrums,
  • there were great performance from Richie McCaw and Conrad Smith.

However, the reality in 2014 is that there is not a lot between South Africa, Australia and New Zealand — and England and Wales will be very competitive for the All Blacks in a few weeks time.

A team to maintain the dominance?

In the last two closely fought tests The All Backs were without a number of key players. The squad for the northern tour brings the team back to virtual full strength.

  • Dan Carter has obviously done enough to prove his fitness, however he has been injury prone over the last few years and needs to show that he can last the distance in consecutive games.
  • PuluSuper star Sonny Bill Williams is a timely inclusion, especially with Ma’a Nonu being unavailable. Williams is a powerful player who is a master of the off-load and runs strongly with the ball in hand.
  • Luke Romano strengthens the locking division and his fearlessness and go-forward attitude will be very we welcome.
  • Wellington’s Victor Vito has been in and out of the All Blacks over the years but now has his chance to cement his place in the team. He is a strong runner in the open and provides a useful option in the lineout.
  • Augustine Pulu, (pictured alongside), is the one new cap and gets picked as the third half back after an excellent ITM Cup season for Counties-Manukau. His slick passing, pace from the base of the scrum and solid tackling have deservedly won him an All Black cap.

Amongst the unlucky

Colin Slade, who fortunately slotted the winning conversion on Saturday, misses out but will be on stand by should the fragile Dan not come through. The jury is till out on whether he is up  to the standard required for test rugby.

Amongst other contender for loose forward positions, Steven Luatua and Matt Todd would bolt into other international squads, however the All Blacks just can’t fit them in. Luatua could perhaps have got the nod ahead of Messam who hasn’t played up to his best in recent tests, and cost the All Blacks their unbeaten record with a high tackle at Ellis Park. Busy openside flanker Todd is not in the same class as McCaw and Cane, but would fit into the team well should he be required.

This is a very good All Black team setting off for the northern hemisphere, however it needs to learn the lessons from two mixed and uneven performances in Johannesburg and Brisbane.